Saturday, May 02, 2009

Roger Dennis Interview Part 2

Hamilton Hall: Home of the Core Curriculum

Roger Dennis was flattered by that memory I posted yesterday about him and he kinldy passed along his answer to question #2, (of about 10).

Here we go!

Jake: What was the atmosphere, academically, socially, and athletically, when you arrived on campus in 1961?

Roger: What I saw academically was a group of individuals going to classes, most of them trying to get the highest grades possible, most not interacting much with their classmates, very little interaction with or concern about the world outside campus.

There was very little sense of community. Since I was immediately playing football there was some degree of community built in that way, but most of us as frosh were focusing on keeping up with the classwork amidst the high time and energy commitments of the sport, and dealing with, (or denying, or some combination thereof), a whole new set of feelings. As I know community now, the football team was somewhere in between community and a group of individuals who shared a common purpose and were trying to fit in and be accepted and hopefully win a starting berth.

But our views are so influenced by what we carry into a situation that maybe the sense of 'not-connectedness' that I describe here was more a reflection of my own homesickness - which was bad for about six months - and my shyness, fears, aloneness, lack of holistic development as a person.

As for the students who joined various activities, like WKCR, Spectator, etc., I have no idea what kind of social atmosphere they did or didn't experience. I guess those who joined fraternities had a much greater sense of community. I was invited to pledge both the football frats, Beta Theta Pi and Alpha Chi Rho. I decided to pledge Beta, made it into I think the second day of Hell Week, and then quit after deciding that "This pledging stuff is way too childish for me". I never pledged "ChRho," but over the years became friendly with most of them and was probably a sort of honorary member there. In fact, for an entire semester, the ChRro guys let me sleep on a couch in their basement; this because I lost one of my scholarships when I quit school for a year, (starting in the spring semester of my soph year).

So I think both academically and socially there was a disconnect. But again, Jake, it's real hard to answer this because of my own biases. I’ve just never been very into books, so my perceptions are really colored by this. I think some people got really turned on by the Core Curriculum stuff, but I didn't. I found myself reading these "revered" books and saying to myself “I don't know what the hell they're talking about, because I haven't lived enough Life to have a perspective to compare this with, a frame of reference.”

So I would put the books down and go out and do life.

As for athletics, when I first got on campus there was a buzz because of Billy Campbell and the varsity football team. This was the year – finally – that Columbia was going to be really good. And it turned out they were. So that was fun. (But it would have been more fun if freshmen were allowed to play varsity during those days, so I could have been a real part of it.)

And it would have been great if this kind of football success happened more often than once every few decades.


At Sat May 02, 06:28:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, that is a refreshingly honest interview with somebody who isn't afraid to address all of the insecurities that a lot of us from blue collar/lower middle class backgrounds experienced during that period (I am a rough contemporary of Roger's, and I still remmember how talented a player he was). How's this: I still don't understand Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and with all due modesty I've had a highly successful career in one of our "learned professions"goodness that this is anonymous, or else I would never make such a statement. PS, my hats off to you.

At Sat May 02, 06:50:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Great point! The hardest thing for so many Ivy grads to say is: "I don't know." I used to have a lot of trouble with it, now just a little. But the more I say it, the more I learn. And the better I feel.

I hope my readers here simply see me as someone with strong opinions, not a "know it all." I think amd hope there is a difference.


Post a Comment

<< Home